Update 9/3/13: The 30k bonus Starpoint offers on the personal and business versions of the SPG card are dead. For the current 25k offers, see here for the personal card and here for the business card.
The Starwood Preferred Guest personal and business credit cards from American Express now come with 30,000 bonus Starpoints for spending $5,000 in the first six months of cardmembership.
The normal offer is for 25,000 bonus points on each card, so I know people have been waiting for the bonus to jump to 30,000 bonus points, which is the highest it has ever been. (It has gone to 30,000 for about one month per year the last three years. Who knows if it will happen again.) The increased sign up bonus will disappear on September 3, 2013, about three weeks from now.
“This offer is also not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months.” That means to be eligible for either card, you must have never had it OR had it but cancelled it more than 12 months ago.
Eligibility is separate for each card. That means if you’ve only ever had the business card, you can still get the personal card. Or if you currently have the personal card but cancelled the business card in 2011, you can get the business card.
Before the big bonus disappears, I personally plan to apply for both the personal and business cards, since I’ve never had either and have been waiting for the bonus to bump to 30,000 Starpoints per card.
On each card, I’ll have to spend $5,000 in the first six months of cardmembership. In return, I’ll get one Starpoint per dollar spent plus a 30,000 point bonus on each card for a total of 70,000 Starpoints. I plan to get at least 2.5 cents of value per Starpoint in the following ways, meaning a total value of at least $1,750 for me.
1. Free Night Awards
Starpoints can be used for free nights at any Sheraton, W, Westin, Le Meridien, Aloft, Four Points, St. Regis, Element, or Luxury Collection Hotel. Free nights start at 2,000 points per night. And the best part is: If a standard room is for sale, you can book it with Starpoints. Free night awards are not capacity controlled like award flights are.
Here is the Free Night Awards chart:
Book a four night award at Category 3-7 hotels and get a 5th night free. Here are the total prices for five nights:
There can be tremendous value in the free night awards. For instance:
Le Méridien Chiang Rai Resort, Thailand is a stunning category 2 hotel that goes for only 3,000 points on the weekends. One weekend night in January goes for $123, so that redemption would be worth 4.1 cents per point.
3k Starpoints or $123
And more importantly, my 70,000 Starpoints would be enough for 23 weekend nights in paradise.
Starwood Cards = 23 Nights Here
As another example of Free Night Awards, the cheapest SPG property in Hawaii is the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, a category 4 property that costs 10k points per night or 40k for five nights, using the 5th Night Free pricing.
The property goes for $302 per night after taxes for a five-day stay in March: $1,510 total. Instead you could pay 40,000 Starpoints and get 3.76 cents per point in value. And more importantly, you’d be here:
Get the 5th Night Free on the Big Island
2. Cash & Points Awards
Cash & Points awards are a way to stretch your cash and your Starpoints. You’ll generally get even more value from your Starpoints through these awards though they are capacity controlled. Here is the Cash & Points chart:
As you’ll notice, a Cash & Points night requires half the Starpoints of a free night plus a cash co-pay.
Unless I were taking advantage of the 5th Night Free with Free Night Awards, a discounted weekend night, or I was cash poor at the moment, I would look to choose a Cash & Points award over a Free Night.
To see why, let’s look at the Sheraton Frankfurt Congress Hotel, a Category 3 property. For a Tuesday this month, the hotel wants 149 euros for the refundable rate. Or you could spend 7,000 Starpoints for a Free Night, or you could spend 3,500 Starpoints + $55.
- 149 euros is $198
- 7,000 Starpoints for a free night is a respectable 2.83 cents per point
- 3,500 Starpoints + $55 is an incredible 4.09 cents per point
And I chose this hotel because I’ll be in Frankfurt next week, not because it has an abnormally valuable Cash & Points option. I’d frankly consider 4 cents per point about average for a Cash & Points redemption.
3. Transfer to Airlines with a Miles Bonus
For people who eschew chain hotels, Starpoints are incredibly valuable to transfer to airline miles because their are so many partner airlines, and in most cases, transferring 20k Starpoints nets you 25k miles in the account of your choice, a 25% bonus!
Starpoints transfer to 30 airlines in total, mostly at favorable rates. Starpoints are the only transferable point to transfer to a major US-based airline in each alliance as well as several major airlines that are not part of any alliance. Starpoints have far better options than Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards.
The best two options are American Airlines and US Airways. Starpoints transfer in a 20k points to 25k miles ratio (1:1.25) to both airlines, and neither airline is a transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards.
I love American Airlines miles for Explorer Awards and the luxurious First Class cabins of their partners like Cathay Pacific, Etihad, and Qantas. I love US Airways miles for their below-market award ticket prices (90k roundtrip to Asia in business with a stop in Europe) and agents’ laxity on routing rules.
Another great transfer partner is Alaska Airlines, which partners with Cathay Pacific and has an underpriced award chart to Africa, charging only 70,000 miles one way in First Class from the US to Johannesburg on 24+ hours of Cathay Pacific flights.
I also love Japan Airlines as a transfer partner, since it has the best award chart to get into Emirates First Class.
Neither Alaska nor JAL are Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards partners.
Other partners where I would consider transferring Starpoints include:
(Note that many of the airlines on this bulleted list are Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards partners, and I would rather transfer those points to these airlines, since I value Starpoints more.)
The one glaring weakness in the airline transfer partners is that United is not a 1:1 transfer partner, 20k Starpoints transfers to only 12,500 United miles. Avoid that transfer and earn Ultimate Rewards instead to transfer to United.
But apart from that, the transfer partner list is astoundingly excellent, featuring a US-based representative from all three alliances and major independent airlines. You can get on most commercial flights worldwide through one of these transfer partners.
Other Important Things to Know about the Starwood Preferred Guest Program
Both the Starwood personal and business cards confer 2 stay credits and 5 night credits toward elite status, and they are cumulative, so if I get approved for both cards, I’ll have 4 stays and 10 nights credited to my account, leaving me just 6 stays or 15 nights short of Gold Status.
Gold Status entitles you to free internet and a 4 PM checkout. You also get an extra Starpoint per dollar on Starwood purchases, so cardholders with Gold Status get 5 Starpoints per dollar.
Other than stays, you can also get Gold Status by having an American Express Platinum card or spending $30k per year on a Starwood credit card.
4x or 5x
Cardholders can earn 4 points per dollar on Starwood purchases, 5 points per dollar if they have Gold Status. This breaks down to 2 points per dollar for the spending normally plus another 2 points per dollar if the spending is on a Starwood card.
You can combine points between Starwood accounts if both parties have had the same address on file for 30 days.
This is hugely important, since certain blocks of Starpoints are critical. For instance, if you and your wife each have 10k Starpoints, you could each transfer them to your respective American Airlines accounts and have 10k miles in two accounts. Or you could combine the Starpoints and send the points to one person’s American Airlines accounts, leaving you with 25k American Airlines miles in one account after the transfer bonus.
Your Parents’ Card
Your parents like to travel, they’re jealous of your trips, and they want a rewards card. But they don’t want to keep track of category bonuses, ten programs, and tons of promotions. (OK, maybe I’m just describing my parents.)
Tell each of your parents to get the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. Of course you can do better than putting all of your spending on this card by taking advantage of other card’s bonuses, but you can do pretty well by putting all your spending year after year on this card and building a balance of valuable hotel points that can also transfer to 30 airlines. When people come to my Award Booking Service with a stash of Starpoints, I know the job will be easy.
Do tell your parents not to use the card on foreign-processed transactions, though, because the card has a 2.7% foreign-transaction fee.
I’ve argued before that Big Spenders Should Be Using One of These Three Cards (And They Probably Aren’t). One of those cards is the Starwood card. Because of its transfer partners and transfer bonus, using the card is like earning 1.25 miles per dollar in almost any airline program.
Nights & Flights
I probably should give Nights & Flights more billing because it might be a better deal than Free Night Awards, Cash & Points awards, and airline transfers. With Nights & Flights, you get five hotel nights and 50,000 airline miles for only 60-70k Starpoints.
Unfortunately the award is limited to Category 3 and 4 hotels. But the price is unbeatable. Going back to the Sheraton in Kona discussed above, for 70k Starpoints, you could get five free nights at the property plus 50k American Airlines miles to get there (you only need 35k).
A lot of airlines and hotels, want you to blow your points on overpriced experiences and merchandise, but Starwood Moments have some good values. Summer spent only 7,500 Starpoints for an awesome package at a Cubs game for instance.
All in One Place
Starwood has an awesome chart that compares many of the redemption options discussed here and some worse options not discussed here.
Since this card is an American Express card, it is eligible for valuable promotions throughout the year. My favorite is Small Business Saturday, right after Thanksgiving when a $25 charge has gotten a $25 statement credit (free money!) for the last few years. (No guarantee this promotion repeats.) Other “free money” promos are Twitter-based and covered here.
Most sign up bonuses require a minimum spend in the first three months. These cards give you six months, which should make a big difference to people who aren’t big spenders. The minimum spending requirement works out to about $833 per month per card.
Those of us who were waiting for the highest Starwood sign up bonuses ever have been rewarded. Until September 3rd, both the personal and business versions of the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card have a 30,000 Starpoint sign up bonus.
I plan to get both cards for 70,000 total Starpoints after meeting their minimum spending requirements. Through Free Nights, Cash & Points, airline transfers, and Nights & Flights, I plan to get at least 2.5 cents of value per Starpoint.
These are the set-it-and-forget-it cards. I still plan to keep up with other cards’ category bonuses and promotions, but for people who don’t have that attention span, these are go-to, everyday cards to keep in your wallet for a long time to build up balances towards incredible vacations.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
- Starpoints® bonus: earn up to 25,000 bonus points: 10,000 after your first purchase and another 15,000 after you spend $5,000 within the first 6 months of Cardmembership
- That’s enough for a weekend getaway to a Category 4 Hotel.
- Earn up to 5 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating SPG hotels and resorts – that’s 2 Starpoints for using the Card in addition to the Starpoints you earn as an SPG member. Earn 1 Starpoint for all other purchases.
- Free Hotel Nights: redeem Starpoints at over 1,100 hotels in nearly 100 countries worldwide – with no blackout dates. Some hotels may have mandatory service and resort charges.
- Free Flights: redeem Starpoints on over 350 airlines with SPG Flights – with no blackout dates
- No limits on the number of Starpoints you can earn
- $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65
- Terms and Restrictions apply.
Application Link: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
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